Here to return to
THE WATER GAP AND BEYOND
I HAD seen pictures of the Delaware Water Gap, I had read of its beauty, yet I had wandered into many out of the way nooks and corners of our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific before I visited this easily accessible and famous Water Gap. It is almost due west from New York City on the Delaware River which forms the boundary line between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Here the stream, before escaping from the rough, broken country to the north and entering the gentle pastoral region to the south, encounters a bold mountain ridge, and passes through a narrow cleft, where rise on either side great gray cliffs, raggedly clad with trees. The scene is impressive, and the jagged savageness of the Gap itself is pleasantly relieved by the milder and better forested heights that are close at hand. Big wooden hotels crown the prominent view points, and the vicinity is a favorite summer resort. I preferred to seek a more rustic region, and after I had enjoyed loitering about the immediate neighborhood of the Gap for a time, I followed a wagon road on the Jersey shore northward along the stream. Soon I had left the hotels behind, and also the railroads, which take advantage of the Gap to slip through the mountain barrier and then go on westward. Often the road I trod skirted the riverbank with only an intermittent screen of trees and bushes between it and the water, and I caught many an enchanting glimpse of the stream, and of high hills or serene mountain ranges dreaming in the distance.
Among the wayside trees were frequent chestnuts with wide-spreading limbs and shaggy-barked trunks, and on the ground was a strewing of burs. As I was passing under one of these trees a chipmunk began to scold me, and to scurry around through the brush as if to frighten me by conveying the impression that he was a dozen times his actual size. Then I observed that burs and nuts were dropping from aloft, and I fancied that the chipmunk on the ground had a confederate in the tree who was busy throwing down nuts for him to gather. I secured a share of the toothsome woodland treasures for myself, in spite of the protests of the chipmunk in the adjacent brush, and resumed my walk, munching the nuts at my leisure from a pocket half filled. When my supply became depleted I found I could easily replenish it almost anywhere along the way. The road presently entered a fine stretch of woodland, tall-treed and damp, with a thick undergrowth of dark-foliaged rhododendrons. Frequent brooks came plashing down rocky ravines from the hills, and this wilderness voice of the waters was almost the only sound that broke the silence. Once I saw a group of deer hastening ghostlike through the leafage, and as soon as their flitting forms vanished loneliness reigned once more.
After a time I emerged among farm fields, but always as I went on the woodland was not far away. Late in the afternoon I was overtaken by the mail-carrier, a thin, hook-nosed ancient, with long gray hair hanging about his stooping shoulders. He had an open buggy drawn by a big, bony, black horse, and as there was room for a passenger and I was getting footweary I arranged to ride with him to the next village. It was a somewhat jerky journey, for he stopped at every house to leave a little mail bag, which he either hung on the dooryard fence, or thrust into a box fastened on a post. Once he drove into a yard and asked a man there if he had any lard to sell.
“Yes, we got a little,” the man said.
“How much d’ye tax for it?” the mail-carrier questioned.
“Oh, the goin’ price, whatever ‘tis,” the farmer replied.
They discussed the lard and various other topics, addressing each other by their first names, and I learned that my companion’s name was Isaiah. “I sell considerable produce during a season,” he said when we resumed our journey. “The hotels down around the Gap are good customers, and I always carry a load when I start from up here in the country. I’m ashamed to tell it, but since the first of April there hain’t been a Sunday when I did n’t have to put in my time getting sweet corn, eggs, and such things. But I’m obliged to make a living somehow.”
I asked if the house we had just left was an old Dutch dwelling. It was a spreading structure of stone shadowed by tall trees. At the rear was a long and broad piazza, and at the front was a porch with a settee on either side suggestive of tranquil evening loitering.
“Yes, that’s a Dutch house all right,” Isaiah said, “and it was built way back in Colonial times. We’re all Dutch through here.
“D’ye see that big field of buckwheat up on the hillside? The grain is all reaped and stacked and ready for the threshing machine. That field is a part of Hiram Robock’s farm, but he’s only been living on it for the last two or three years. Now he’s got sick of it, and a few days ago he moved back to Newark where he come from. Well, it was like this — he did n’t git along with his neighbors. He wa’n’t very sociable, and he thought they was too inquisitive about his business, and too much inclined to trespass. You see when a man here needs to use a stick of timber he goes up on the mountain, and if he don’t find it handy on his own land he goes somewheres else on land that lies next to his and gets what he wants. We all do that way, and nobody cares; but Hiram thought it was stealing, and he made a row.
“His buckwheat had n’t been cut when he moved away, and his neighbors got quite anxious because it looked to them as if he was goin’ to let that buckwheat go to waste. They thought he must be crazy. They were right about his intentions. He wa’n’t goin’ to bother with the buckwheat, and I went to him and made a bargain to harvest it to halves. We raise a good deal of buckwheat around here, and all through the winter we have buckwheat cakes for breakfast every morning. Oh, we can beat the city people all to hollow on makin’ buckwheat cakes.”
My companion talked with considerable animation, and he often gestured with an upward, outward throw of his hands, and he emphasized the good points in his discourse by giving me a hunch with his shoulder. Presently, in response to a question of his, I told him that I was from Massachusetts.
“Do you know Dr. Prout of Boston?” he at once asked. “He’s a specialist on stomick troubles, and he’s helped me wonderful. Until ‘bout six years ago I’d been a well man all my life. I’d hired out on a farm at that time and was workin’ in oats. I remember I was talkin’ with the woman of the house after dinner, and she said: ‘I’ve never knowed you to lay down like other men to take a noon spell. Don’t you never get tired?’
“There come up a shower in the afternoon, and I was goin’ to the house when suddently I begun belching up gas. ‘What under the sun ails me?’ I says. I was fairly blind, and I went and sot down on the stoop. But I got worse instead of better and liked to ‘a’ choked to death. One of the other men helped me into the house and went for the doctor, who relieved me some, so that the next day I was out and around. But I was too sick to work. I doctored with him all winter, and wa’n’t improvin’ a bit. I had nervous prostration, you know. It was just as if death was staring me right in the face. I can’t describe it to you. Dr. Prout’s advertisements was in the paper, and I decided to try him. I told the man I’d been doctorin’ with, of my intentions, and he said, ‘I don’t think much of these advertising doctors. They just take your money and don’t cure you.’
“‘That’s a little the way of the local doctors, too,’ I says. ‘You pledged me your word of honor that you was goin’ to do suthin’ to cure me, and here I am.‘
“‘I told you that in good faith,’ he says, ‘but your trouble is more stubborner than I expected.’
“‘You was on a wild goose chase all the time,’ I says.
“So I wrote to Dr. Prout and told him how I was afflicted. After that we had considerable correspondence, and his portrait was right on the corner of every letter he wrote. In his first letter he asked, ‘What does the local doctors pronounce your trouble to be?’
“I replied that they said I had a weak stomick, and I described my feelin’s and symptoms. He wrote back that he had diagonized my case, and I had catarrh of the stomick, and that the inside of the stomick was covered with a thick mucus. ‘We must kill the germs of that;’ he said, ‘and I can guarantee you a permanent cure; but it will perhaps require a five month’s treatment, and the charge would be nine dollars a month.’
“I got the medicine from him, and I had n’t taken it no time at all when I began to be better, and at the end of five months I was well.”
Now we were entering a village. It was a chaotic little place with what was known as “the mountain” rising easterly, and a high hill on the west, and right through the midst of the hamlet ran a swift, noisy stream. The valley road was here crossed by another, and near the meeting of the ways was a store, a hotel, a gristmill, and a church. The store was neatly painted, and in good repair, and had a mild aspect of prosperity. In front of the hotel across the way hung a somewhat pretentious sign, but the building was now a tenement occupied by two families. It had been years since the wheels had turned in the gloomy gristmill, and the barnlike little church was pastorless and seldom used. In the village were perhaps a dozen homes. Most of them were distinctly humble, and often they were forlornly so. The yards and fields were inclosed by staggering nondescript fences. Every home had its ordorous hogpen, and this was very apt to be next to the road where the passer could neither avoid the view of its filth nor help inhaling some of its aroma. Along either side of the narrow village ways, among the weeds and stones, it seemed to be convenient to leave the farm wagons, and other weatherworn vehicles, some entirely past use; and for variety there were mingled with them woodpiles, old wheels, broken mowing-machines, and similar rubbish.
With the help of a ceremonious introduction from Isaiah I engaged lodging at the storekeeper’s, and then I went for a ramble about the hamlet in the evening dusk. I found its quaint picturesqueness quite appealing. There was even a wellsweep at one of the homes still in use, and this harmonized very agreeably with the sunbonneted women and rudely clothed men.
The storekeeper’s dwelling and place of business were both under one roof, and after eating supper in the kitchen I stepped into the adjacent store where a few dim lamps were burning. A box stove occupied the center of the apartment, and near it was a long bench. I took possession of a lone chair, and chatted with the men who dropped in from time to time. Most of them settled down on the bench to stay for the evening, and when that would hold no more they perched on the counters and on boxes of goods. One man, after feeling of the stove to make sure there was no fire in it, sat down on that. Some had resorted to the store to get their mail, some to trade, others merely to loaf and gossip. One of them was a stutterer who seemed to try to overcome his defect by speaking very loud. A dog had come tagging along at the heels of the man who sat on the stove, and when the creature saw that his master was going to linger he curled up and went to sleep. At a convenient spot on the floor was a pan with a little sawdust in it. Some of the men were smoking, some were chewing, but they all, whether using tobacco or not, spit at the pan. Their marksmanship was not very good. If it had been I fear the pan would have overflowed.
A woman brought in a bag of chestnuts. The storekeeper weighed them and said, “Eleven pounds, fifty-five cents. What’ll you have?”
She asked for some coffee and a few other small items, and remarked that the coffee she bought last did n’t seem as good as what she’d been getting.
“It’s what I have on my own table,” the storekeeper responded, “and I don’t see any difference. Maybe you used skim milk in it.”
He emptied the bag behind a counter on the floor. “I shall be glad when the chestnut season is over,” he said, “and I get these out of here. I’m tired of walkin’ over ‘em, and of having the grubs crawl around. I’m obliged to spread ‘em or they’d heat. There’s quite a number of bushels here now.”
“This is a good year for chestnuts,” a man on the bench remarked. “It don’t take long to go out and fill one of them air big pails.”
“How many can you pick up in a day if they’re right thick?” another asked.
“A bushel,” the first man replied.
“Well, if you did,” the other said, “you’d have to hustle and pick up all the time.”
“It don’t pay to wait till all the chestnuts fall themselves,” the storekeeper said, “because the leaves come down, too, and the nuts are hidden. As soon as the burs are open good you want to climb up in the branches with a pole and lick the burs off.”
“I’d rather get out on the limbs and jar the burs off with an ax,” was the comment of a man whom the others addressed as Jase.
“No, don’t do that,” the storekeeper said, “or you’ll bruise the bark and injure the trees. But whipping a tree and keeping your foothold ain’t easy. It’s too risky a job for me. My neck is so long I believe I could tie a knot in it, and the chances would be that I’d break it if I made a slip. One time my brother was beating off burs, and he fell and cut his head open bad. He hit a stone, and no wonder. There’s nothing but stones round this country. You put your shoe down on one or more at every footstep.”
“It’s likely pretty soon that we won’t get no more chestnuts,” Jase observed. “I think this ‘ere chestnut tree blight is goin’ to clean up all the trees of that sort on our mountain.”
A man came in eating a raw turnip. He wore a faded felt hat that had lost its ribbon and fitted over his head like an extinguisher. His other clothing, and even his beard and face had a faded hue also.
“Set down here, Bill,” one of the men said, making room for him on the bench. “You ought not to be eatin’ raw turnips. It’s only three weeks since you got out of the Trenton Horspital.”
“Turnips won’t hurt me none,” Bill responded. “I kin eat anything now; and I’m hungry all the time. They kind o’ starve you at the horspital. For two days before they operate they don’t feed you at all, and your stomick gits flat as a board. You don’t have much appetite for a while afterward, but I tell you, when you begin to walk around, you want some grub. The food was good, but there wa’n’t enough of it. There’d be a little meat, and a little cabbage and potato, and little messes of several other things, and I could n’t hardly eat some of the stuff it was so darn sweet. Course they would n’t want to give you a swill pail full, but I thought they might have given me more than they did. Just as soon as the doctor let me out of the horspital I went over to a butcher’s shop and got me fifteen cents’ worth of boiled ham. Gorry! that was fine.
“I did n’t like the eggs there at the horspital. They’d been in cold storage. I kin tell a cold storage egg with my eyes shut. People that say they’re just as good as fresh eggs don’t know what they’re talkin’ about. Such eggs ain’t first-class, and neither is creamery butter.”
“But creamery butter brings a better price than homemade,” the storekeeper said. “The public knows it’s at least half way decent, and they’re not sure about the other. I buy and sell butter that the farmers bring in here, and some of it is fierce. By gee! I’ve handled some rotten butter. You could n’t hire me to eat it myself.”
A boatman at the Gap
“My dad went to a horspital in New York once,” the man on the stone said, “and they kep’ delayin’ and delayin’ and not havin’ any operation. Finally he asked the doctor if he could go out for a while, and the doctor told him he could if he’d promise to come back. ‘Yes,’ Pap say, ‘I will come back.’
“But he did n’t want to pay out no more money for board at a horspital where they wa’n’t doin’ nothin’ for him, and so he got fixed up by an outside doctor, who did such a good job that Pap was around all right in a little while, and for years afterward he could beat any man in this country dancin’ a jig.”
“It costs something to go to a horspital,” Bill affirmed. “If you have a private room they sock it to you like the Old Harry. Everything costs high nowadays. They told me in Trenton that the carpenters git three dollars and a half a day, and only work eight hours, and not at all on Saturday afternoon. That kind o’ thing is goin’ to ruin this country in time.
“I was lookin’ out o’ the window one day there and saw an airship. You would n’t git me to ride in one of ‘em for a million dollars. But I’d like to have an auto. They say autos’ll be cheap as wheelbarrows after a few years. You know bicycles used to be a luxury. Now they ain’t fashionable no more, but are kind o’ gone by. I have an idea it’ll be the same with autos, and common people kin have ‘em as well as the wealthy.”
At times I had difficulty in catching what Bill said, for he had a thick-tonged way of speaking, and when he had to struggle with a thought more than commonly profound he would lean over with his elbows on his knees and run his fingers up under his hat into his tangled hair, and his muffled voice would go down toward his cowhide boots. I made some remark to the effect that airships and automobiles both had a long list of fatal accidents charged up to them, and that I had been glad to ride into the village with the mail-carrier.
“You ‘n’ me are a good deal alike,” Bill commented. “I’d rather go safe than fast any day.”
“Did Isaiah sing you one of his songs?” the occupant of the stove asked. “He composes ‘em himself. He’s got just one tune, but he’s made up a good many sets of words, and he thinks he’s quite a singer.”
“Isaiah has to make a long hard trip every day,” Bill said. “This is a mountainious country and it ain’t easy to git to any big town or to the railroad. That’s where we’re handicapped when it comes to marketing the stuff from our farms, and this year we’re extra bad off in a money way because the weather has been too dry for things to grow good. We had a May drouth that cut the hay crop, and a drouth in August that just cooked the corn and everything like that. I ginerally have hay to sell. Las’ year I stacked or put in the barn fifty ton. I keep a number o’ head o’ cow and they’ll eat all I got this season. There won’t be nawthin left by the time they can go to pasture in the spring.”
“‘Bout our worst road is the one over the mountain, ain’t it Jase?” the storekeeper said.
“Yes,” Jase agreed, “it’s pretty darn steep, I tell you, but in the summer I drawed twenty-two hundred up it with that old Sally horse of mine.”
“There’s ten thousand railroad ties wanted from here next winter,” one of the men said. “We’ll raft ‘em down to the Gap in the spring, I s’pose. When my father was young rafting on the Delaware was quite a business. Every raft had to have a steersman and three other men. They each had an oar near one of the corners, and they had to keep workin’ the oars a good deal of the time so the raft would drift along properly. The men would make trip after trip in the spring and fall when there was plenty of water. They’d go down on the rafts and come back on the stagecoaches. Any farmer along shore who had an eddy near his house where the rafts could tie up had a chance to make money. The raftsmen would pay well for lodging and food, and they had to have a little something strong, you know. Many of the rafts were run clear to Trenton. There’s some pretty dangerous places on the river when the water is a little low, and sometimes a raft would git stove up in a rocky rapids. That’s a time when the men needed to keep their wits about ‘em. If they were thrown into the water and got scairt they’d sure drown. Foul Rift is a bad place. That’s where the Lehigh joins the Delaware, and unless you butt right into the cross current you’re carried over agin’ the Jersey shore. Oh! you’ve got to keep your eyes skint there.
“My land won’t furnish many ties on account of that fire a few years ago. It was an April fire that started in the night. Early the next morning it could easily have been put out. Only a little bit of place had been burnt over, but as the fire was smudging in the wet swale where it could n’t do much damage we paid no attention to it. There the wind got behind the fire and drove it right up the mountain faster’n a man could run. In some places there was down timber, and in other places the woods had been lumbered off and the brush lay thick. When the fire struck those it swept everything pretty near, and often burnt down into the turf three or four feet deep. Lots of young chestnuts are still standing dead and bare that was killed then. We been drawing them dry poles down ever since as we needed ‘em for firewood. The ground that was burned over is covered with wintergreens now.”
“We got a good many maple trees up on our place,” Bill said. “When I was a boy we used to tap ‘em and make sugar, but that takes a power of work. It don’t pay.”
“Tony’s in the jug,” Jase remarked. “They got him locked up for twenty days. He had a little rumpus with his wife and used a stick of firewood on her, and she used another on him. Then she went and had him arrested.”
“They could n’t ‘a’ missed hittin’ every time they struck,” one of the listeners said. “She’s so big around,” and he stretched his arms to form an impressive circle; “and Tony looks like a beer kag.”
“After they’d taken him to jail,” Jase said, “she went to see him and stood a-talkin’ to him through a window. She asked him to come home with her and help husk corn; but he says; ‘I won’t go today. I need to rest, but I’ll go tomorrer.”
A woman who was buying some calico of the storekeeper turned to the group of men and said: “I think Tony’s wife is an old crank. You would n’t ‘a’ ketched me goin’ to see my husband after I’d got him locked up.”
“I don’t believe they get very good grub at the jail,” the ever-hungry Bill said. “But then, long as you don’t git in no trouble you don’t have to go there.”
“Well b-b-boys,” the stammerer said, “it’s m-m-most nine o’clock, and I want to git some m-m-medicine to break up a cold before this sh-sh-shebang closes.”
“I c’n give you some quinine pills,” the storekeeper said.
“What good are pills?” Jase said. “They’re all made of buckwheat flour.”
But the storekeeper supplied his customer with something from a closet in a rear corner and turned out one of the lights as a signal that it was closing time. The men got on their feet from bench and counters and the stove, each made a final spit in the direction of the pan of sawdust, and off they shambled.
The next day was Sunday. It was a day of loafing and visiting, but once in a while a customer dropped in at the store and made a purchase. Most of the men wore their old clothes, and these were often marvelously patched, ragged, and shabby. They would gather about one of the wagons in the street, adjust their limbs or bodies on or against it, and then talk as the spirit moved; or they would chat at some gateway or barnyard fence, or on a home porch.
In the early dawn I had heard the sound of axes and knew the people were cutting up firewood with which to get breakfast. Practically all of them brought a little jag at a time from the mountain and threw it off in front of the house by the roadside and cut it up as it was needed day by day. Some, however, spent a little of the Sunday leisure in chopping up more than usual. Bevies of little pigs ran about the roadways rooting and investigating, and there were cows wandering and browsing where they chose.
When I looked from the kitchen window of my lodging place, after breakfast, I observed signs of life about a large old house adjoining. It was a somewhat dilapidated building, and certain of its window sashes lacked so much glass that they had been boarded up. The most noticeable decoration of the structure was a great hornet’s nest under the peak of the gable. On the previous day the house had been vacant, but a family had moved in from another village house during the night. A mule was grazing in the yard, and a dog was hitched to a clothesline along which the restraining leash slipped and gave him a limited amount of liberty. At the rear door was a platform and a pump, and one at a time the members of the household scrubbed their hands and faces there in a wash-dish. The family included two or three bewhiskered men, a frowsy old woman with a corncob pipe almost constantly in her mouth, a young woman, and a barefooted little girl.
The old wellsweep
“That old woman looks brown as her pipe, don’t she?” the storekeeper said. “There’s a few other old ladies roundabout who smoke, but the habit ain’t common. This country is pretty well civilized. See, that woman is in the front room now cleaning a window and still smokin’. That’s her daughter cleaning the other window. She’d be a pretty rosy lookin’ woman if she was dressed up. There are the men comin’ in the gate. They’ve got their hog and are drivin’ it along hitched by the hind leg. I wonder how they got it across the bridge. Pigs are awful mean about crossin’ a bridge. Often you have to take right hold and get ‘em over by main strength.
“These people ain’t got cows or chickens or anything like that, and they don’t cultivate any land. They have to depend on day wages for their living. Their home, until last year, was over in Pennsylvania in the scrub oak barrens. That’s a peculiar region, and it begins not far back from the Delaware River. It’s just a dreary level of little oaks that don’t get much higher than six feet, but there are spots where pine, chestnut, and hickory grow. Every fall of the year the natives let the fire run through so as to have pasturage for their cows. Mostly the cows browse on the tender new sprouts that start up from the roots of the oaks.
There’s no fences, and the hogs and cattle run in the woods. You might think that the creatures belonging to different families would get mixed up, but the houses are so far apart that I guess the cattle never get together. The buildings are of logs. Big families are the rule, and yet very likely the house will have only one room downstairs, and the ceiling of that room is the log crosspieces and loose floor boards of the loft above. It’s a wonder they don’t freeze in winter, but they seem to come out all right in the spring. They trap and hunt and fish, and they have little garden patches. Whenever they get an unusual supply of food they eat it all up at one time. It’s either a feast or a famine with them. If anyone kills a hog all the neighbors borrow some of the pork and return it when they kill. Each family keeps an old horse, or a mule, or a yoke of oxen; and now and then they haul out some railroad ties, or perhaps they cut a little batch of hoop poles and shave ‘em and take ‘em to town. In exchange they git some tobacker and a sack of flour and a few other things and feel rich. The old women all smoke, and their teeth are as black as that stove — what there is left of ‘em.
“I suppose these neighbors of ours think this place has about all the advantages anyone need want. But I don’t care to spend my life here. There’s no chance for variety and amusement, and we have only a poor little primary school for my children to attend. Each year we have a green teacher. We can’t keep one a second year or get one that’s had experience because the salary is so small and it’s so inconvenient getting here. Sometimes a local girl applies for the job, and then you run up against all sorts of prejudices. There was a case here a few years ago where the girl was all right, but she had the majority of the school board against her. I and three other fellers contributed two and a half apiece, and I folded up a nice ten dollar bill, put it in an envelope, and went to see one of the opposing men on the board. I says, ‘It’s worth ten dollars to you to vote for that girl,’ and I give him the envelope. The girl got the school, and it was that ten dollar bill what done it. She’d be doin’ housework today if she had n’t had that start. As it is, she’s a very successful teacher who’s now in a first-class position.”
“I’m not wanting to stay any more than he is,” Mrs. Storekeeper said. “He’s away a good deal, and I have to wait on customers besides doing my own work. In winter it’s worst, for then there’s loafers hanging around the store all the time, and I get so sick and tired of ‘em I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, but you have a chance to hear all the news, don’t you?” her husband said.
“I would n’t object to that,” she said, “if they did n’t tell the same thing over and over. There’s Bill — ever since he came home from the hospital I’ve heard him tell about his operation until I’m ready to stop my ears and run. Bill’s as proud over that operation as a nigger with a new shirt.”
“I’ll say this for our people,” the storekeeper remarked — “they’re generally industrious. In summer they’re up at half-past four, and they work after supper till about dark, then sit around a little while and get off early to bed. Six o’clock is getting-up time in winter. During hot weather they rest in the middle of the day from eleven to two. The girls all learn to milk, and it’s the women that do the milking on most farms.
“Nearly every family takes a local weekly, but they don’t take any dailies or general periodicals with the exception of a farm paper that one man subscribes for. They don’t have much ambition to see the world. It’s no great journey to New York or Philadelphia, and yet very few feel they can afford any such luxury, even if they’re well-to-do, which, as a rule, they’re not. Some have mortgages on their places, and more would have, but I tell you, mister, a farm won’t mortgage for much when the land is goin’ down in value as it is here. However, you can’t judge people’s poverty by the clothes they wear. Style don’t bother us much in this region. I know a man who you might think was a beggar or pauper. He’s ‘bout as rough a lookin’ old piece as there is around, but he owns many a farm. Lots of poor men have had more comforts than he’s ever had. His wife goes barefoot. I saw her the other day watching her cows that she’d got hoppled and was letting feed along the road. She was a tough-lookin’ specimen.
“Eventually I don’t believe there’ll be any village left here. The old people die, and the young people won’t stay. I’m goin’ to sell out and leave soon, and I’ll never come back, not even to be buried. Our cemetery is too forbidding a spot for any one to want to go to, alive or dead. It’s overgrown with blackberry briers, bushes, and weeds, and the groundhogs dig holes in the graves and scratch out the bones. Hundreds of people have been buried there whose graves were only marked by a plank set up with perhaps the initials cut on it. Of course the wood soon decayed, and now no one knows where the graves are.”
As the day advanced the sky became solidly gloomed with clouds, and a foggy moisture began to fall. When I presently went for a walk it was a sober, diminished world I had about me, and after I left the village the silence was almost oppressive. Not a breath of air was stirring, and there was only the drip of waterdrops from the trees, the rustling of an occasional brook, and now and then the lonely twitter of some little bird. The weather, and the wet slippery ground did not encourage me to ramble far, and I soon returned to the hamlet.
On the vine-draped porch of one of the humbler homes were two men and an elderly woman. I paused to ask them why every field and yard in the place was fenced, and the woman replied: “If it wa’n’t for the fences the cows that run around loose would come right into our houses. I dassen’t go off away from the house and leave a gate or barn-door open, and I have to keep the barn shut up tight all through the summer with the horse sweating away inside.”
“Here, want an apple?” one of the men said, offering me a beauty that he took from his pocket. “Apples are so plenty this year they ain’t worth nothin’. We shuck ours right off and sold ‘em for cider.”
“There’s Isaac’s ducks down here on the millpond,” the other man remarked.
“You don’t tell me,” the woman said, and she stepped out to the edge of the porch and looked to assure herself.
Across the road was a brook, and a little above was a dam and a small pond on which we could see several ducks paddling about.
“You would n’t think that little stream over there would do any damage,” the woman observed, “but I can remember once when it flooded half the village. Must have been ‘bout this time of year, along in the fall. There’d been awful heavy rains, and a pond above here busted. When the flood swept through it was pretty near morning, and some of the people here in town had n’t got up yet. The water tore a great gulley along this side of the road, and undermined a house just below us. There was a man into it, and he was asleep. They had to hound him out. He might not have escaped if the back of the house had n’t been against higher ground. Well, he made out to git his pants on, and that was about all, I guess; and no sooner had he left the house than it went right down all to smash. Another house was partly wrecked. It sot so slanting after the flood was over you could hardly walk across the floor. That flood was forty years ago, wa’n’t it Dick?”
“Must ‘a’ been as much as that,” Dick replied. “I’m forty-six; and they say I was quite a little chunk at the time, but I can’t seem to recall anything about it.”
“Dick,” the woman said, “I want you to move them rattlesnakes out of my weave-room. I’ve got to work in there; and you take them skunk-skins out, too. They don’t smell good.”
Dick went to a door at the far end of the piazza and entered a dingy little room which contained a rusty stove and a rude loom, and much else that had been thrust in there for convenience. On the loom was a partly woven rag carpet. Nearly everyone in the region saved their carpet rags, and this woman did quite a business in weaving them. From amongst the litter Dick picked up a box about fifteen inches square, with a pane of glass fastened on top, and brought it out on the piazza. Inside were three big rattlesnakes. He reached up to a crosspiece overhead and took down a pair of wooden tongs. Then he slid the glass back, gripped a snake just behind its head, and pulled it forth, writhing and showing its fangs and rattling ominously.
“Look out; your tongs might slip,” the woman cautioned.
But Dick was careful, and after exhibiting the monster for a few minutes he restored it to the box. They make nice belts,” he said. “I git a couple of dollars a hide. When I go lookin’ for ‘em I carry a smaller box. They ain’t very numerous, and like enough I might go half a dozen times and not git one. They like warm sunshiny weather. Then I find ‘em in the fields and around stone walls up on the side of the mountain. A while ago one was found right here in the village and it bit a dog. The poison made him sick — you bet it did, and his head swelled up big as a water-pail.”
While we were talking, Bill, the man who had been to the hospital, joined us, and soon we all went into the kitchen and sat down. “These two men are brothers,” Bill said to me, “but they don’t look no more alike than a dog and a sheep.”
Then turning to them, he said; “That was a pretty good p’rade at Newton las’ week wa’n’t it? My! what a crowd! The automobiles was goin’ all the time on the streets, and every stoop way up in the buildings stood full of people. I don’t know where they all come from. Lots of money was left there that day. B’gosh, if I had it all I don’t think I’d need to work any more. I guess every man there spent much as a dollar.”
“I liked the music,” the woman said. “My good gracious! they had the bands from everywhere around, and fed ‘em all free.”
“Did you see the big drum?” Dick asked. “Must have been pretty near four foot across. The drummer understood his business. By golly! if he could n’t use his arms! They played the band, sir, up till ten o’clock, when the last train left. People from here had to drive over the mountain. There’d been rain the night before; so the mud was deep, and it was awful nasty goin’.”
“Bill,” the woman said, “I want you to look at this picture,” and she wiped the dust off a faded, rudely framed photograph and handed it to him.
It showed the village schoolhouse with the children seated on a low pile of wood beside the building. “That was made when I went to school,” Bill said, “and here’s me right in the middle. I ain’t much bigger’n a big rabbit. There used to be forty or fifty children went in those days.”
“When I was a girl,” the woman said, “I lived farther up the valley and went to a stone schoolhouse that they called the little stone jug. We mostly had men teachers. They were hired for three months, and paid ten dollars a month, and they would board round. A man would teach for three months on the money that was raised in the taxes, and then perhaps he’d go through the deestrict and git signers who’d agree to pay him so much a head to have the school another three months. There’s men I knowed who teached steady till they were fifty or sixty years old — made a business of it. I remember one woman, too, who was at it nearly all her life. She went from one deestrict to another, and they could n’t down her. She was smart, but as she got older she wa’n’t up-to-date enough. She was like a minister — he gits behind the door a little, and they want some one younger.
“In my time every scholar had to find his own books. Now they’re found for ‘em. I never got to go to school such an awful sight, but I know I had an Elementary Spelling Book. The schoolbooks hain’t near as easy as they used to be. I see that the spelling books now have the pronounciation into ‘em besides just the words, and the children have to learn how to talk high-toned. Some of the new notions ain’t sensible. George’s kids are learning to spell cow and such words, and they don’t know their letters. How can they git along that way? We used to have to behave pretty good. The master had a big twisted hickory, and when a boy would n’t mind he’d take that and give him a lickin’.”
“Nowadays,” Bill said, “if the children do anything, the teacher talks to ‘em and let’s ‘em go, and they do it again directly; or she makes ‘em stand up on the floor, and what do they care for that? But Lord God! in my own time I’ve seen children ruled till I bet their hands was sore next day.”
“I hear you’re goin’ to take some of your sheep to market tomorrow,” Dick said.
“Yes,” Bill responded, “if the weather’s good. Have you seen them of Ormy’s? His lambs are older’n mine, but mine are bigger’n hisn are, they’ve growed so fast. That’s the trouble with these extra early lambs — they don’t grow, and besides you have to set up nights and fool around with ‘em or the cold weather’d kill ‘em. The other day that buck of mine that I been keepin’ tethered near the house got loose. The children was playin’ in the road, and how they did scatter when they see him comin’.
“That ‘ar sheep come clean down here past our hogyard,” the woman said.” I was workin’ at the woodpile cuttin’ some wood, and I got over the fence. He went in the dooryard and knocked Dick endways. Buck was just a-makin’ to come at him again; but Dick got up and slammed him with a board and sent him down the road a-sailin’.”
“He butted me off my feet once in the spring,” Bill observed, “and I caught him by the leg and pounded him with a stone. I give him a good trimmin’ down. Since that time he don’t bother me. He’ll stand and shake his head and look at me through the fence — ‘Baa!’ but that’s all.”
When I returned to the store, dinner was ready. Included among those who gathered about the table was the village schoolma’a’m. She was quite youthful and shy, and seemed more like a pupil than a teacher. I noticed that she helped with the lighter housework. Probably she paid a lower rate for her board in consequence. The storekeeper jokingly remarked that she already had a beau. “Girls of courting age are about as scarce as white mice around here,” he said. “The same fellow that was goin’ with the last teacher is goin’ with this one. The other teacher, after she left, turned him down. He felt pretty bad, but he wa’n’t heartbroken, and soon as this one come he was right onto his job. He calls on her, and takes her for a drive now and then, and if she goes home over Sunday or on a vacation he’ll take her to the station and meet her there when she comes back.
But the young people don’t have the advantages they used to have for courting, now that there’s nothin’ doin’ at the church. Last summer a minister volunteered to come and preach every other Sunday, and he had to drive from a town eight miles away. Hardly anyone went, and yet fifteen years ago we had services regularly, and there was good-sized congregations. People would come three or four miles from all around and hitch their teams to tieposts in the yard there at the church. Every year we had Protracted Meetings when there’d be services in the evening right along for a spell. I was always glad when the dominie announced ‘em, because I knew I’d have a sporty good time with the girls. The dominie generally tried to strike a time in the early fall when there was a full moon, but ‘twould have suited me better to have it a little dark. There was one fellow who, after meetin’, when he was takin’ his girl to where she lived, always stopped at his home in the village to get his overcoat, and while he was gone I’d hug her and give her two or three blame nice kisses.
“I remember one Sunday afternoon I went to the new teacher’s boarding-place to see how she looked, and the people there had me stop and eat supper with ‘em. Afterward the teacher said she was goin’ to meetin,’ and I says, ‘Guess I might as well walk along, too.’
“We had n’t gone far when I says: ‘It’s kind o’ gloomy on the road. Take hold of my arm, and I’ll assist you.’
“Things was progressin’ very nicely, and by and by I says: ‘If you’ve no objection I’ll walk home with you tonight. But no foolin’. I would n’t go out before that crowd at the church and ask you and get a refusal for twenty dollars.’
“She said she would n’t disappoint me, and I left her at the church door and went in and sat in the choir. Oh, we had a good meetin’, but I got away as soon as I could when it was over. The schoolma’am was outside, and another feller was askin’ if he might go home with her.
“‘No I thank you,’ she says, ‘I’ve got company this evening.’ I had a triumph that time.
“I don’t know just how much religion people got at those meetings. It was more excitement than anything else. One man who was always there was Jake Stickles. How he would pray! What he said was pretty sensible, but there was no end to it. Sometimes the dominie would have us sing to get Jake stopped, and very likely after we’d sung the whole piece he would n’t have stopped yet.
“People would get up and tell their experiences, and they’d urge the sinners to repent, and finally they got me on the anxious seat. I was taken in on probation, and the prospects were I’d be received into full church membership on the final night. Gee! what a crowd there’d be on that last Sunday night! But I did n’t think I could keep store and join the church without bein’ a hypocrite, and I did n’t want people to say, ‘What a backslider he is!’ So I made a date with a girl for that night and sat up with her till three o’clock in the morning. I wa’n’t at the church at all and they gave me up as a bad case.
“Naturally, after the Protracted Meetings, you could look for weddings. Those are very simple affairs here. You go to a justice of the peace and get hitched and return home. We don’t indulge in wedding trips, but I know one feller with new-fangled notions who did, and he had n’t been gone more’n a day or two before his wife got so homesick he had to bring her hack. The cost of getting married is very moderate. A fee of a dollar or two satisfies the justice, of the peace, and Squire Styers used to do the job for a bobsled load of wood.”
Sunday passed and Monday came. The village work began at dawn, and by the time I was up the men were busy at their various outdoor tasks, and the women had started washing. Presently I betook myself to the highway and turned my footsteps toward the Water Gap. It was a beautiful day, warm and bright. I could see the glistening wings of many little flies and other insects playing in the sunshine, and the fields were alive with grasshoppers and crickets fiddling merrily and wholly unaware that the frosts would soon put an end to them. Sometimes I heard the clear, vigorous call of a white-throated sparrow migrating southward, or I heard the rhythmic “hammering” of a partridge in the woodland, and once I scared up as many as twenty quail from a roadside tangle and saw them whir away in wild fright.
Men were ploughing on the hillsides, sowing grain, and husking corn. The generous heaps of yellow ears and the scattered pumpkins among the stacks were grateful to the eye, and cheered one with the suggestion of winter comfort. Around the houses too were many evidences of the harvest — strings of seed corn, ripening tomatoes brought in from the garden, heaps of melons and squashes, apples and nuts.
So I went on, sometimes picking up an apple to eat under a roadside tree, or perhaps pausing to gather a few frost grapes; and though I doubt not that the valley here has charm at any season, it seemed to me that it must be at its best as I saw it in those mellow days of autumn.
NOTES. — The gorge where the Delaware flows through the Kittantinny Mountains is supposed to be the result of a large lake breaking its bounds. This theory is borne out by the Indian name Minisink which applied to the country above, and which means “the water is gone.” Only by taking a trip through the gap in one of the rowboats or power boats that are for hire can you get an adequate impression of its two-mile length and of the height of its rocky walls rising 1,500 feet almost from the water’s edge. There are in the vicinity numerous vernal roadways, sylvan paths, waterfalls, and outlooks from cliff and hill and mountain-top that entice one to a prolonged stay.
The automobile route from here to New York by way of Morristown, 79 miles, is mostly good macadam. A more interesting route is that along the river south to Philadelphia, 118 miles, mostly good roads. Trenton, 73 miles, is the capitol of the state. It is at the head of navigation of the Delaware. Great quantities of peaches and cranberries are raised in the tributary region. General McClellan is buried in Riverview Cemetery here. Washington crossed the Delaware, 8 miles to the north on Christmas night, 1776, in a storm of sleet and snow, to attack 1,000 Hessians quartered in the city. He captured them all, evaded Cornwallis, defeated the British at Princeton and retired northward to Morristown. Cornwallis, who had sent his trunks on board ship, intending to return to England, with the idea that the war was over, changed his mind.
At Bordentown, 7 miles below Trenton, Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon, and at one time King of Naples and King of Spain, bought an estate of 1,400 acres after Waterloo. Here he lived from 1815 to 1832 entertaining many illustrious Frenchmen. The estate is now public property and known as Bonaparte Park.
At Burlington, 13 miles farther on, is the house in which J. Fennimore Cooper was born, and the birthplace of Captain James Lawrence of “Don’t give up the ship” fame. General Grant had his home here during the Civil War. Giant sycamores to which the early settlers tied their boats, still enhance the beauty of drives along the riverbank.
At Camden, just across the river from Philadelphia, can be seen the house of Walt. Whitman, the “Good Gray Poet.”
A back porch